Thirty-one percent of Europeans in a 2009 survey blamed Jews for the global economic crisis. Unfortunately, this is only one statistic in the larger trend of contemporary European anti-Semitism.
In the last decade, both a sovereign debt crisis and the Syrian refugee crisis have hit Europe. These two overlapping crises allowed for a surge in far-right parties across the continent, as confirmed by Hanspeter Kriesi, a professor at the European University Institute.
A 2015 Anti-Defamation League (ADL) survey found that 41 percent of Hungarian and 37 percent of French people hold anti-Semitic convictions.
Throughout the crises, France has largely experienced a grassroots process of anti-Semitism in which most incidents and rhetoric occur on an individual level and only occasionally bubble up to national politics. On the other hand, Hungary’s governmental official institutions continually assert anti-Semitism that encourages an increase in individual anti-Semitic acts.
The European Union Framework on Anti-Semitism
Bound by their laws, all EU member states, including France and Hungary, must strictly condemn Holocaust denial and all other anti-Semitic rhetoric. In the twentieth century in response to World War II, Europe and much of the world adopted a strict framework to hinder future anti-Semitism. Bound by the 1945 laws of the International Criminal Court and International Military Tribunal, all states must “punish condoning, denying or grossly trivialising crimes” against any individual or religion.
Europe reaffirmed its commitment to fighting anti-Semitism when in 2003, the European Court of Human Rights declared that “denying crimes against humanity constitutes one of the most serious forms of racial defamation of Jews.” France and Hungary again declared their missions to keep the governments friendly towards Jews in an agreement with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in 2004.
France: Grassroots Anti-Semitism
Home to the largest Jewish population in Europe, France has experienced residual anti-Semitism over the previous decades. For quite some years prior to 2008, anti-Semitic threats and attacks in France were on the decline. Unfortunately, however, French anti-Semitism has become more intense since the recent economic turmoil in 2008 and onward, as cited by Samuel Ghiles-Melihac.
A 2017 report from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) found that the anti-Semitic actions and threats in France have increased significantly since the crisis. From 2008 to 2009, the annual number of reported anti-Semitic actions and threats spiked 459 to 815, and the rate continued to grow larger. Fortunately, the most recent data from 2016 suggest a possible decline.
According to the American non-profit Human Rights First, one possible reason for the uptick in hate-crimes is the widespread marginalization of French Muslims, immigrants, and their descendants in France. The researchers found that these marginalized groups are often exposed to anti-Semitic stereotypes in which Jews have excessive money and power. They argue that the anti-Semitic rhetoric solidifies due to a lack of high-quality education and social mobility compounded with exposure through media and connections to their homelands.
While often on an individual basis, anti-Semitism has entered politics through the far-right party, the National Front. Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the National Front in France in 1972, often relied on anti-Semitic rhetoric that targeted Jews and minimized the Holocaust. In 2017, Marine Le Pen succeeded her father as the leader of the National Front. At first, she eschewed the anti-Semitism of Jean-Marie, but then quickly returned to her party’s anti-Semitic past.
In a televised interview, Marine Le Pen proclaimed that “France wasn’t responsible for the Vel d’Hiv.” The Vélodrome d’Hiver roundup refers to the French policemen’s collection of over thirteen thousand Jews in Paris in July 1942 to send to Nazi concentration camps. Since the French were the true primary actors, Marine Le Pen’s remarks constitute the type of denial that the EU condemns as the most dangerous form of anti-Semitism.
Importantly, however, French newspapers and politicians widely condemned Marine Le Pen’s comment, and she lost by over thirty points in the final election. It seems that in France, when anti-Semitism reaches politics or the government, many major actors swiftly reject and condemn it.
Hungary: Bottom-Up and Top-Down Antisemitism
More damaged by the crises than France, Hungary experienced a larger growth in anti-Semitism. In 2008, Hungary accepted a loan package of $15.7 billion in 2008 U.S. Dollars from the International Monetary Fund and its European partners. In the midst of its financial recovery, Hungary then became the European frontier of the refugee crisis in 2015 of peoples fleeing the Syrian Civil War.
The independent think-tank Action and Protection Foundation documented more than a twofold increase in general anti-Semitic feelings in Hungary from ten percent in 2009 to twenty-six percent in 2015. The researchers concluded that nearly every indicator of anti-Semitism had increased, including the belief that many of the stories from the Holocaust were false and that Jews have too much power in the government.
Importantly, researchers found that in 2009, nearly half of Hungarians believed that “Jewish financiers are responsible for the current world economic crisis,” as cited by the renowned Hungarian-Austrian journalist Paul Lendvai. To many, there was a causal link between Jews and the Hungarian nationals’ financial hardships.
With nearly half of the population believing in unfair Jewish control, many Hungarian government actors have begun to rely on far-right anti-Semitic rhetoric. The two most popular Hungarian political parties, Fidesz and Jobbik, came to power after the economic crisis and regularly mobilize national anti-Semitism. Jobbik has been particularly vehement in its fight against Jews, Romani peoples, and refugees, as confirmed by the testimony of Chairman Benjamin Cardin of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe in the United States Senate.
The individual Jobbik politicians also embody the anti-Semitism of their party. Just weeks prior to the 2010 parliamentary election, a Jobbik politician took an “ethnic purity” test to ensure no Jewish or Roma blood. In the parliament in 2012, one of Jobbik’s leaders, Marton Gyöngyösi, proposed compiling a list of all Jews in the government, as he claimed that they “represent a certain national security risk for Hungary.”
More than just anti-Semitism in the opposition party, the current Fidesz administration has actively pursued anti-Semitism in its policymaking and elections. The government has built a Holocaust Memorial in Budapest with an inscription that dedicates the statue to the “victims of Nazi Germany’s occupation of the country in March of 1944” yet fails to mention Jews in any regard. In truth, Hungary gladly collaborated with Hitler, and without significant protest, condemned the Hungarian-Jews to Auschwitz.
In the last months of 2017, Fidesz used George Soros, a Hungarian progressive philanthropist now residing in the United States, to further its political ambitions. As an influential and wealthy Jew, Soros became the perfect target for Fidesz.
In a campaign ad, Fidesz boldly tied Jews to the refugee crisis. The attached poster depicts an exaggerated photograph of George Soros with the text, “Don’t let Soros have the last laugh.” This feeds into the frequently used anti-Semitic stereotype of Jews conspiring against other peoples and countries. Moreover, the line above Soros reads: “99% reject illegal immigration.”
The tie between the refugee crisis in Hungary and anti-Semitism is clear, and it may prove to be successful for Fidesz. On Soros’ forehead in the above image, someone has written: “smelly [or dirty] Jew.” On April 8, 2018, the people of Hungary will choose the next parliamentary power, which may, in turn, determine the future of Jews and other minorities in Hungary.
Unfortunately, France and Hungary are only two examples of the phenomenon endemic to the entire European Union. The same 2017 FRA report that analyzes French anti-Semitism also documents all other European Union countries that provide official data on anti-Semitism. Every country in the report, excepting Germany, has seen an increase in anti-Semitism in the last ten years.
After adopting the strong legal framework against anti-Semitism after World War II, many felt optimistic about the end of anti-Semitism. Not even seventy years later, it has returned, though not nearly to the same levels. All throughout the numerous European successes and crises, anti-Semitism has remained in some form. The recent European financial and cultural crises have simply reinvigorated the residual yet perpetual anti-Semitism.
Nathan Isaacs is a sophomore in Branford College.